Friends are reminded that our Religious Society took form in times of disturbance, and that its continuing testimony has been the power of God to lead men and women out of the confusions of outward violence, inward sickness, and all other forms of self-will, however upheld by social convention. As death comes to our willfulness, a new life is formed in us, so that we are liberated from distractions and frustrations, from fears, angers, and guilts. Thus we are enabled to sense the Inward Light and to follow its leadings. Friends are advised to place God, not themselves, in the center of the universe and, in all aspects of inward life and outward activity, to keep themselves open to the healing power of the Spirit of Christ.
Take heed, dear Friends, to the promptings of love and truth in your hearts. Seek to live in affection as true Friends in your Meetings, in your families, in all your dealings with others, and in your relationship with outward society. The power of God is not used to compel us to Truth; therefore, let us renounce for ourselves the power of any person over any other and, compelling no one, seek to lead others to Truth through love. Let us teach by being ourselves teachable.
. . . a charge to you all in the presence of the living God, be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, island, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them. Then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one; whereby in them ye may be a blessing, and make the witness in God in them to bless you. - George Fox, 1694
“…when the inward weather is just right; when selfish impulse has been hushed; when the clouds and shadows … are swept away and genuine love makes the whole inner atmosphere pure and free from haze, then I know that I find a beyond which before was nowhere in sight and might easily not have been suspected.”
Robert Purvis has said that I am “the most belligerent non-resistant” he ever saw. I accept the character he gave me and I glory in it. I have no idea because I am a non-resistor of submitting tamely to injustice inflicted on me or on the slave. I will oppose it with all the moral power with which I am endowed. I am no advocate of passivity. Quakerism as I understand it does not mean quietism. The early Friends were agitators, disturbers of the peace, and were more obnoxious in their day to charges which are now so freely made than we are.
The community itself can become the test or touchstone for authenticating leadings. The experience of being united in Truth produces the expectation that the perceptions of a person truly under divine guidance in a particular situation will be consistent with the perceptions of others who also are – or have been – attuned to divine guidance. Truth is one, not several, and does not alter from person to person. So the perceptions of discerning people may be extremely helpful in helping a person to distinguish or discern the sources of her own perceptions and motivations.
Behind the Clearness Committee is a simple but crucial conviction: each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth, that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. But that inner voice is often garbled by various kinds of inward and outward interference. The function of the Clearness Committee is not to give advice or “fix” people from the outside in but rather to help people remove the interference so that they can discover their own wisdom from the inside out. If we do not believe in the reality of inner wisdom, the Clearness Committee can become an opportunity for manipulation. But if we respect the power of the inner teacher, the Clearness Committee can be a remarkable way to help someone name and claim his or her deepest truth.
Action that arose from clarity and action that arose from despair often took the same outward form...I was no Gandhi, no Martin Luther King. Whereas they had struggled through their own fear and anger and uncovered reservoirs of hope and inspiration, I was drowning in my anger and in my desperation to make things better. Whereas they drew on a lifetime of tempering their souls against the hard edges of injustice, I was young, naive, and willing to take risks for which I was ill prepared. They were fed by inward springs that refreshed and renewed them even in the face of death. I was fed by surges of emotional energy with which I tried to lift myself out of an undertow that threatened to swallow me into its depths.
There is a tendency today, in this generation, to suppose that the religious life must prove its worth because it changes the social order. The test of the importance of any supposed dealing with Eternity is the benefits it may possibly bring to affairs in time. Time, and the enrichment of events in time, are supposed to pass a judgment upon the worth of fellowship with the Eternal...We are in an era of This-sidedness, with a passionate anxiety about economics and political organization. And the church itself has largely gone "this-sided," and large areas of the Religious Society of Friends seemed to be predominately concerned with this world, with time, with the temporal order... I submit that this is a lamentable reversal of the true order of dependance. Time is no judge of Eternity. It is the Eternal who is the judge and tester of time. – Thomas Kelly, 1941
It is also true that we may leave the hush of the meeting [for worship] with a heightened sensitivity to the injustice, violence, and pain all around us. Yet we can hope (and Quaker history seems to bear this out) that the same Power which allows us to suffer increased sensitivity to social evil also empowers us to reach out more creatively to touch the right spot or to pull the right handle to begin healing in lives and situations around us and to start a process of social change. Fortunately, the same Power which makes us more sensitive to evil and pain also makes us more open to an increasing awareness of beauty and spiritual resources which can enable us to be faithful followers of the Way of which Jesus spoke.
To speak of this discipline as Quaker witness, as testimony, is to make it clear that our outward work is grounded in ’the virtue of that Life and Power that takes away the occasion of all wars.’ This would not be so clear if we spoke of our work merely as following Quaker guidelines or adhering to ethical commitments. Such words suggest principles that could be derived from a book or a list of rules. The words ’witness’ and ’testimony’ suggest something much deeper: that we are giving voice and form to that which we have come to know from direct encounter. Thomas Kelly once wrote that he worried that ’too many well-intentioned people are so preoccupied with the clatter of effort to do something for God that they can't hear Him asking that He might do something through them.’ It is this simply stated but nevertheless crucial distinction between working for and being worked through that is at the heart of sacramental living. This does not mean that we should abandon strategic thinking or that we should not use the tools of political and economic analysis, only that we are called to work away on behalf of what is right and just but leave the outcomes to God.
At this moment each man in the world possesses a limited energy for social action. Let us consider this quantity similar to the contents of a drinking cup. If we use a portion of this energy in fear, another portion in frustration, and still another in preparation for violent aggression, soon we shall discover that our power is greatly diminished. But, if we can discipline ourselves – and that is a matter requiring a practical, willing, and thorough-going devotion – we can remove fear, hatred, bitterness and frustration. Then the cup will overflow with energy, a great deal of which can be used in finding a creative solution to our problems.
The true “concern” [emerges as] a gift from God, a leading of the Spirit which may not be denied. Its sanction is not that on investigation it proves an intelligent thing to do – though it usually is; it is that the individual (and if the concern is shared and adopted by the meeting, then of meeting) knows, as a matter of inward experience, that here is something which the Lord would have done, however obscure the way, however uncertain the means to human observation. Often proposals for action are made which have every appearance of good sense, but as the meeting waits before God, it becomes clear that the proposition falls short of 'concern.' - Roger C. Wilson, 1949
Our practices are in place to nurture that transforming power and process and to allow us to be faithful to the fruits of this way of life. It is what we are about. As William Penn said of early Friends, they were changed people themselves before they went to change the world. (Quaker faith & practice 2013: 19.48). We are, and always have been, open to spiritual change and to discerning and obediently following holy leadings to use our gifts as part of our ministry to change the world for God… If as Quakers we are not open to transformation, or do not understand that Quakerism is centered on that kind of experience, we misunderstand Quakerism. Quakerism is not a spirituality of passivity, not a spiritually of options; our testimonies are not a pre-packaged set of values. Our spiritual experience, our openness to being led and to living a guided life, leads us to a life we have little choice over. Testimony is the outflowing life we cannot help but lead.
The spiritual traditions do not deny all reality of the outer world. They simply claim that we help make that world by projecting our spirit on it, for better or for worse. If our intuitions are rigid, it is because our hearts fear change; if they set us in mindless competition with each other, it is because we value victory over all else; if they are heedless of human well-being, it is because something in us is heartless as well. We can make choices about what we are going to project and with those choices we help grow the world that is. Consciousness precedes being; consciousness, yours and mine, can form, deform, or reform our world. Our complicity in world making is a source of awesome and sometimes painful responsibility – and a source of profound hope for change. It is the ground of our common call to leadership, the truth that makes leaders of us all.